Worth A Look: 21.32%
Pretty Bad: 4.41%
Total Crap: 6.25%
15 reviews, 182 user ratings
by Scott Weinberg
A blisteringly entertaining and wonderfully unique concoction, Joss Whedon's SERENITY may have been born from a failed TV series, yet floats into multiplexes as one of the cleverest, crankiest, wittiest, wildest, and most character-driven sci-fi adventures in 25 years, and it's the best outer-space trip I've been on since the empire struck back. (OK, maybe it was "The Wrath of Kahn," but still, that was 1982!)This is a labor-of-love movie, and one that should thrill the "already fans" as it slowly wheedles its way into the hearts of even the snobbiest of science fiction cineastes. Serenity has heart, soul, wit, warmth, comedy, character, violence, sexiness, explosions, assassins, escapes, henchmen, and a whole lot more -- but deep down under the surface slickness and the well-wrought characters, there's a deeply satisfying and thought-provoking foundation of staunch sci-fi storytelling. Frankly this is one of the best multiplex movies I've seen in years.
"The Finest Space Adventure Since the Year We Found Out Who Luke's Dad Was"
The crew of the cargo ship Serenity is a colorfully varied one indeed: Our captain, Malcolm "Mal" Reynolds, is built in the wonderfully sardonic Han Solo mode (only not as cuddly). Mal's second-in-command is the ass-kickin' Amazon-lady known as Zoe, and she's married to the wise-cracking pilot known as Wash. The adorable 20-something in overalls is the ship's mechanic, Kaylee, and she holds an obvious torch for the ship's temporary medic, Simon. River is Simon's sister, and she's as beautiful and fragile as she is intermittently psychotic and exceedingly dangerous. The ship's grunt is the gun-lovin' Jayne, the flowery courtesan is called Inara, and the wise old Shepherd Book is sort of like a space-preacher.
And these are the noble heroes who get a distress call and head off to save the day in the most pedestrian fashion imaginable, right?
Well, no. Basically the Serenity gang would love nothing more than to be left completely alone, which would give them ample time to focus on the petty crimes and cons that are necessary when you live on the other side of the space-tracks. But as it often does in movies, a conflict arises: It seems that the government body known as "the alliance" wants little River back, and by "back" I mean that the poor, willowy girl had once been the recipient of some serious emotional torture when she was used as a test subject before her brother broke her out of the lab and booked some incognito passage on Captain Reynolds' ship and then....
But see, here's where this critic's emotional conflict arises.
As you could probably assume from my enthusiasm for Serenity, I am a huge and joyously geeky fan of Firefly, which is the series that Serenity is based upon. Indeed, Serenity is practically a sequel to the 14 Firefly episodes that presently reside within a DVD package that's (right now) sitting on a shelf at your local Best Buy hint hint...
Having already admitted my overt fandom for Firefly, Serenity, and the characters offered within, I'd like to profess the following: I am not just giving Serenity an arbitrary "free pass" because it's based on a series I adore. What I'm saying here is that Firefly and Serenity (taken separately or as a combo platter) represent the very best that the sci-fi world presently has to offer. (At least as far as movies and TV shows are concerned, anyway.)
I absolutely believe that we have a whole new Star Trek phenomenon going on here: Failed series, lotsa vocal fans, long-shot movie adaptation ... but there's where the comparison ends, because Serenity is a WHOLE lot better than the first Star Trek movie was. (And that flick was directed by Robert Wise!) And all of this happy hoopla comes about why? Not because we just chose one random show to admire. No, both the TV series and the feature film win those "free passes" because they're just that damn good.
But back to the criticspeak.
Serenity infuses your classic sci-fi concepts with all sorts of Western motifs, Far East influences, character-based comedy, and just a whole lot of gee-whiz gadgetry. The concept here is that Serenity takes place 500 years in the future, inside of a not-too distant solar system. As new colonies pop up on all sorts of planets, some of 'em get absorbed by the alliance and become all gleamy and shining, while the colonies a bit further out are forced to live much like our own forefathers did: In cabins, on horses, and packing revolvers. And just like that: You've got your Western in my Science Fiction ... and it tastes great!
Put all the genre-mixtures and motif-mushing aside for a second, and if you're clever enough to go out and support a movie like Serenity, take a few moments to just focus on the words, the banter, the language, the chit-chat, the dialogue. The words. He might not be the next George Lucas (god let's hope not), but that Whedon boy sure does know how to string a few purty sentences together. Yes, you just heard the main characters swearing in Chinese, and yes you just heard the main hero use phrases like "I mean to take my shot," and "...of a sort." Pay close attention and you'll pick up the slang, too. ("Shiny" means "cool.")
Strange but true: Based solely on the actors on hand and the words that Whedon feeds 'em, I feel more affection for the Serenity crew than I ever have for any of the noble yet one-dimensional folks who lived aboard the Enterprise(s) ... and this is coming from a guy who's seen every single one of Picard's adventures (and most of Kirk's).
And since, at this point, I've long since given up being an actual film critic in this review, I'll just rattle off more good stuff: Nathan Fillion rascally portrays one of the most intriguing, conflicted, and fascinating space heroes ever created, the delicate Summer Glau steals scene after scene with her sweetness, her vulnerability, and her amazing ass-kickery. (Let's not forget that Mr. Whedon created Buffy the Vampire Slayer.) Serenity's got brilliant little visual touches (there's an extended "one-shot" which introduces the crew that's just staggering, mainly because it's not just there as a gimmicky directorial flourish), some imaginatively slick CGI sequences, a whole lot of pulse-pounding action material, a wonderfully appropriate score by David Newman, some really dark and slick surprises, a truly malevolent performance by Chiwetel Ejiofor as a quietly intimidating assassin, and just ... more stuff than I can think of right now, plus this damn review's way too long at this point, anyway.
Every year, one or two wide-eyed and well-intentioned genre flicks just steal my heart, and this year it's Serenity. I absolutely adore this movie, and even if I were the only one in the world who did, that'd be just fine by me. (Not really, but you get what I'm saying.). I love the world it creates, the people who populate that world, and the words that spill out of those peoples' mouths when they're not running away from lunatics or blasting their way through assassins.
Serenity is precisely the sort of movie that people always "discover" five years after it hits theaters and then feel bad for not checking it out sooner -- like Dark City or The Iron Giant. This flick is not only a wondrous piece of science-fiction adventure; it's an absolute homage to science-fiction itself. Don't just turn your nose up because it's an odd concept starring no-name actors. You'd still feel pretty silly, to this day, if you were the guy who once yelled "Jawas? Tractor beams? Mark Hamill? Nah, I'll just stay home and watch Welcome Back Kotter."Yes, I just compared "Serenity" to the original "Star Wars." Now you're REALLY curious, aren't you?
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=12621&reviewer=128
originally posted: 09/29/05 20:16:52
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Boston Sci-Fi Film Festival For more in the 2006 Boston Sci-Fi Film Festival series, click here.
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